Eugene Wood.

Folks back home online

. (page 12 of 17)
Online LibraryEugene WoodFolks back home → online text (page 12 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

our hearts ache as we turn backward for a moment
to the shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch
over their flock by night. The soft Judean heaven

bends above them, vast, silent, patterned with far-
off shining stars. On the dim sky line rise formless
blots of shadow, hills and clumps of trees by day.
The dried grass whispers in the gentle wind. A
sheep bell tinkles softly. A lambkin s fluttering cry
arises and is hushed. A twig snaps loudly in the

O shepherds, drowse not! This is the Holy Night
of all that were and shall be. This is the solemn
moment round which, as round the polestar, circles
the vast perimeter of all time. The world awaits it,
breathless, hushed.

On the instant the dark shadows on the horizon s
rim leap into their day s likeness in a flood of light.
The dazzled shepherds shade their eyes. A radiant
stranger stands before them, his wings a-quiver with
arrested flight. " Fear not," he says, " for, behold,
I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be
to all people. For unto you is born this day in the
city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the
babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a man-

There is a moment of silence. The shepherds hear
the blood thudding in their ears, and then the
heavens flash with rosy light. The sky is thronged
with rank on rank of quiring angels singing, " Glory
to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will


toward men." Rank on rank they swim in the still
air, each glistening chanter bearing his part, treble
and counter, tenor and bass, sweeter their voices, ah,
sweeter far than any cathedral choir! The floating
skeins of melody weave in and out in heavenly po
lyphony, twining and intertwining till they knot at
last in sevenfold amen. The light fades slowly as
the music dies. The shadows on the sky line creep
nearer and nearer till once more only the pale stars
twinkle overhead. The shepherds hearken, but they
hear only the tall grasses whispering in the night
wind, only the tinkling of the sheep s bell, only the
lambkin s fluttering cry that rises and is hushed
again. The shepherds sigh and we sigh with them.
So soon those angel visitors are gone and gone from
earth forever! It is in vain we stretch our hands be

Angels, sing on, your faithful watches keeping,
Sing us sweet fragments of the songs above.

Ah, happy shepherds! Would that we, too, might
now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing
which is come to pass! But our Eden is closed to
us. From among the thorns and thistles we peer
through the guarded gateway of our childhood s
faith and mark how lovely are the waving branches
in whose pleasant shade we nevermore may walk


Well, that wasn t the way Brother Longenecker
told it. He rocked back and forth on heels and toes,
his finger tips joined together and a smile s corpse
coming and going on his mouth. " Dear children,"
said he, " who can tell me what is this day we cele
brate? "

" Christmas! " They all knew that.

" Christmas. Yes, it is Christmas. And why is it
the gladdest and happiest day of all the year? "

A confused babble out of which one might pick
the shriek of, " Cause we get Christmas gif s."

" Yes. We get Christmas gifts and we give Christ
mas gifts. And why do we give Christmas gifts? In
memory of the greatest Christmas gift the world has
ever had. Now what is the greatest Christmas gift
in all the world?"

Silence at first and then one little boy pipes up:
"A pair o skates!"

In the laughter that followed Brother Longenecker
could be seen rather than heard to say: " No, no."
One little girl stuck up her hand and snapped her
fingers till she got the floor, primly squalling:
" Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day," switch
ing the tail of her dress to one side as she bounced
down again.

That was the way that Brother Longenecker told
the Bethlehem story.

After he got through, Miss McGoldrick read off


a whole lot of poetry that she made up herself and
little Curg Emerson spoke a piece about:

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.

Maybe you have heard it. It is a nice piece, but
poor little Lycurgus was so scared he didn t know
what to do with himself and he completely forgot
all the gestures his ma had taken such pains to teach
him. He kept opening and shutting his hands and
trying to swallow a terrible lump in his throat.

I can t begin to tell you all the things that they
put in to prolong the agony and keep the children
waiting. But finally the screens that masked the way
from the study began to wabble and then the chim
ney shook and there! down bounced Santa Claus
on the fiery sofa and out on the floor, the funniest
little, fat, red-nosed man that ever was, with white
whiskers and a red suit all trimmed with white fur.

A shrill scream of joyous welcome greeted him,
and even the solemn-faced bunchy little " Barefeet "
with the knit hoods clapped their skinny hands. It
made Lide catch her breath to see them. In an
excess of motherly feeling she hugged little Rosetta
to her. The child looked up smiling. It was all true
about old Santy, " no kiddinV But when he came
over to where they were, to hand them each the little
bag of candy and the orange, they shrank from him.


It is not good to come too close to supernatural
beings. They feared the Greeks even bearing gifts.
But only for a moment. And then what a crunching
of candies and ripping open of oranges! For that
matter, the whole church was soon a shambles of
sweets, and when the sexton came to clean up he
had no words to express his detestation and hor
ror of the whole wretched business.

"Jist look at that there carpet!" he quivered.
"Look at it! Now, ain t that " But he could say
no more.

Little Rosetta sucked her candy stingily, but
saved her orange, she told Lide, for her sick ma.
She watched Santa hopping around in comic haste,
her eyes round with wonder. Suddenly she dropped
her orange and clutched the top of the partition that
masked the front pew in which she sat. She stood
up and screamed. But the hubbub was so loud that
her shrill voice was unheard.

"Oh, look at Santy!" she cried. "Oh, look at
him! Looky! looky! "

Everybody else had said that hours before. In
a transport of rage at being ignored the child
began slapping her neighbors and jumping up and

" Here, here! " corrected Lide. " Behave yourself,
little girl."

" Look at Santy! look at Santy! " she sobbed, and


flung herself into Lide s arms frantically. " Teacher,
teacher, look at Santy!"

Lide gave a look and then, placing her hands on
the partition, vaulted over it as she had not done
since she was a girl. She rushed into the altar tear
ing off her coat as she ran.

A pale blaze flickered on the cotton trimming of
Abel s suit.

It spread like fire in powder. He was all aflame
in an instant. He tore wildly at his garments. The
children laughed to see his antics, and then their
laugh died in horror in their throats, and they rose
to their feet gasping.

Lide was fighting with the wild creature trying to
muffle him in her coat, while he threw her away
from him writhing in agony.

A big hobbledehoy sitting next to Clarence
started up bawling, " Fi ! " But Clarence clapped
his hand over his mouth, snarling, " Shut up, you
damn fool! Do you want everybody tromped to
death? Set down and keep quiet, or I ll knock your
head off."

" Keep your seats, everybody! " cried Mr. Longe-
necker. " There is no danger! "

But the word " danger " frightened them and with
one impulse the packed pews strove to empty them
selves at once. The men clambered over the seats
and trod on shrieking women and children. Clarence


leaped into the aisle and bellowed, " Ladies first!
Git back there, you! Easy, now. No crowdin !
Ladies first!"

Henry Myrice came bursting down the aisle yell
ing: " Lemme out! lemme out!" Bang! went Clar
ence s fist on Henry s jaw. The man toppled over
against a pew.

" What s the matter with you? " he whimpered.

"Ladies first!" shouted Clarence. "Next man
gits it jist the same. Ladies first!"

Over in the other aisle Lester Pettitt caught up
the word. " Ladies first! " he kept crying, and pres
ently the men and boys recovered their senses and
waited their turn to get out.

Dr. Avery, who had sung a solo that night and
was near the altar, ran to Lide s assistance.

" Don t try to take his things off here," he said
to her. " Let s get him out. Here, somebody take
a hold." But nobody heeded. The librarian of the
Sunday school could think of nothing more instant
than blowing out the candles on the Christmas tree
and went hopping around puffing at them. Mr.
Perkypile stood perfectly still, fear-mazed. Lide
gave one look around, then stooping she lifted the
shoulders of the groaning man and kissed him on
the mouth.

" Come on, doctor," she said, as she rose stag
gering with her burden. " You take his feet. I can


manage. Over to my house. We live across the

When Mrs. Horn came out of her faint they led
her down into the study. She stopped her little cries
of "Oh, oh, oh!" to look through the open door
at the crowd on Burkhart s veranda. With swift
accession of strength she ran thither.

When she entered the room, Dr. Avery looked
up from the work of stripping the charred costume
from the sufferer. " Don t let anybody in," he said

" I m his mother," cried Mrs. Horn. " I guess I ll
come in if I want to. O my boy! O Abel, Abel,
you ll be all scarred up if you ever do get well! O
dear! O dear! Why didn t you take him home?
Home s the best place. Yes, home s the best place
for my poor, poor boy! "

" Madam, you ll have to keep quiet or I can t
have you in here," said Dr. Avery.

"She s in here!" screamed Mrs. Horn. "Pretty
thing if I can t be with my own boy. What right has
she got here? I should think if she had any decency
about her "

" I have every right in the world here," said Lide
quietly, " I am his wife. Just a second, doctor," and
she went on deftly scissoring away the smoldering

His wife! Abel looked at his mother and nodded


painfully. She gave a low cry and tottered out of
the room.

It never rains but it pours in Minuca Center, and
the excitement over the panic in the church was
hardly greater than the discovery that Abel Horn
and Lide Burkhart had been married for more than
two years, and had kept it a secret.

" I wouldn t a put it apast Abel Horn to do sech
a fool trick," said Sarepta Downey, talking it over
with Lester Pettitt and his wife, "but la me! I did
think Lide had more sense. Now if it was me gittin
married I d want everybody to know it."

Mr. Pettitt kept a straight face.

" A man s natcherly romantic, anyhow," continued
the little old maid, " and then his ma bein so set
on him stayin single while she lived. But mercy!
It s different with a woman. She s got to "

Mrs. Pettitt frowned and shook her head, giving
it a little jerk toward Janey, who was listening
eagerly. " What s Miz Horn goin to do about it? "
she asked by way of diversion. " I mean old Miz
Horn. Sounds funny to call her old Miz Horn,
don t it? "

" Oh, she says he s made his bed and he s got
to lay in it. She found out he was goin to git well,
though, before she said it. Say. Do you know, they
say he won t be marked up hardly a bit when his


hair and eyebrows grows out? Yes, sir, she s done
with him, his ma is. So she says. Not a cent will she
give him. Ain t that green, though? "

" Abel ll come out top o the heap," said Lester.
" I ll bet on Abel."

So he did. The event was, as everybody said, " the
makin s " of him. About then folks began to talk of
a trolley road. Abel undertook to secure the prop
erty owners consent and engineer the franchise.
If he never again appeared in any entertainment it
was because he was too busy bullyragging and
" blanneying " people into giving him rights of way
for nothing or the next thing to it. He is something
of a magnate in that line of business and making
money hand over fist.

His mother? Oh, she s quarreled with Abel and
Lide a dozen times since then. There was a grand
flare-up when they wouldn t name the baby Abelina
Jerusha. Yes, it s a girl; born the latter part of the
next April after. Sweet little thing, too.


IT was hard that Bob Prouty should have been
dismissed just at the beginning of the dull sea
son, when it was useless to look for employ
in his line; but a calamity that brought him home
from New York for a good long visit, the first in
years, was not one to grieve over very much.

The difficult question: " What do you do with all
your money? " had been answered as well as it ever
can be, the question being from the standpoint of
Minuca Center, the answer from the standpoint of
New York. Followed the next important query
did Bob " go " with anybody there? Mrs. Prouty
concluded that it must be a very queer place indeed
if it was as hard there for a young man to get
acquainted with nice girls as Bob made out it was.

" Don t you go to church, ever? " she asked.

" Yes, sometimes. No, not regularly to any one
place. Well, to Trinity as often as anywhere. They
had good singing there."

" Well, now, I tell you what you do," advised



Mrs. Prouty. " When you go back in the fall you
go call on the pastor what s his name?"

"The rector of Trinity? Dr. Dix."

" Why, is he there yet? " interjected Mr. Prouty.
" He is, eh? They must like his preaching pretty

" You go call on this Mr. Dix, and tell him you
attend his church, and then you take in their so
ciables and oyster suppers and whatever doings they
have in the parlors of the church in the long win
ter evenings. If I was you, I d go to the young
people s meetings, and join the choir. Why, you d
be acquainted with lots of nice girls in no time,

As Bob dramatized these suggestions, they
seemed pathetically comic. His mother divined his
smile rather than saw it.

11 Oh, whatever church you like," she made haste
to add. " There s plenty of nice girls in all of them.
I just worry and worry about you, away off there
with nobody to look after you and see that your
socks aren t one mass of holes. You ought to get
married. It would be the making of you, if you
could get the right kind of a wife. And you could,
too no bad habits, and strong and healthy and fine
looking oh, you needn t say Huh! for you are;
I don t care if you are my boy. You could take your
pick of them."


" Yes, I s pose," scoffed Bob. " Just walk up and
say, I choose you, and she d come right along."

" Oh, now, you know what I mean. It ain t right
for you to stay single, and you going on twenty-

"Yes," jeered Bob; "I d look well with a wife
right now, wouldn t I?"

" O fiddle! " replied his father. " You ll find some
thing as good as you had, as soon as business opens
up again in the fall. On the wages you were getting
you could easy keep yourself and a wife, and lay
up money. See here!"

And with a pencil and the back of an envelope,
Mr. Prouty demonstrated again the ancient para
dox that what will just about do for one is an ample
competence for two.


The shame of being idle and living off his father
for a whole summer Bob Prouty found more tol
erable than he had imagined. It was not such a slow
little town, after all. There were the annual lawn
fetes of the various churches, each of which was at
tended by the members of the other churches with
an evangelical charity beautiful to behold. There
were all kinds of picnics, whereat assisted many
young women who remembered him much better
than he remembered them. Some of these young


women were pretty. Marie Hutchins was an un
doubted beauty, and none of them was as provincial
and countrified as he had feared.

Miss Hutchins beauty had dazzled him at first,
but not for long. Beyond the limit of an extrava
gant compliment from him, a flashing of her big,
blue eyes, with " Oh, yes, you say that to every
body/ and his succeeding protest, he found it diffi
cult to extend a conversation. Jennie Lineacre was
beautiful, too, in a graver, more statuesque way; but
she was so patently affected that her hour was brief.
Grace Hoover was the jolliest little thing, " the life
of the party," as they say, but to be always on the
lookout for a witticism and to be obliged to cap
it with another was too great a strain.

That was the worst of most of them, Bob found
they thought they had to exert themselves to en
tertain. Perhaps it was because she wasn t eternally
clacking away at him that he often found himself in
the company of Alice La Fetra. He had known Alice
since he was a boy, for his mother and hers were
old friends. They swapped patterns and recipes, and
were always running back and forth. Bob and Alice
had never known much of each other, for she was
younger than he, and a girl. The last time he was
at home she was gangling and awkward. Since then
she had improved, and was now not bad looking,
though he would not call her beautiful. But, he ad-


mitted to himself, he had very seldom seen a woman
that he would call really beautiful. What was most
in Alice s favor was that she didn t make him tired.
What she said was sensible and well expressed; but
if she didn t say anything, she was company, just the
same. She was going to teach a kindergarten in the
fall, having finished her preparatory studies. She
was musical, though not a wonderful player or
singer. She was a musician rather than a performer.
There is a difference.

Bob s mother delighted to pretend that he was her
little boy still. It saved her so many steps for him to
" run over to Mrs. La Fetra s " and do this, that,
and the other errand. Mollie and Sue La Fetra were
away for the summer, and Alice was the only one
that Mrs. La Fetra had to send on errands to Mrs.
Prouty s. Both families belonged to the same Meth
odist church, and, naturally enough, Alice and Bob
walked home together on Sunday mornings with
their parents. It was the custom there for the young
people to attend other churches in the evening; and
if Bob asked Alice to go with him, it was because
it was less trouble to do that than to hunt up an
other girl. Then there were these picnics and lawn
fetes, and walks to the Sulphur Spring. He liked
to row, but it was a bore to go alone, so he took
Alice, because she didn t squeal and wiggle about
and dabble her hands in the water.


Most of Bob s schoolmates had gone away from
Minuca Center. Those who were left, while good-
hearted and all that, were rather limited in their
ideas. Out of sheer inability to pass the time in any
other satisfactory way, he got into the habit of go
ing over to the La Fetras in the evening, instead
of downtown.

When Frank Woodmansee told Bob that Harry
Allgire had asked if he was " going with " Alice La
Fetra, it first angered and then amused him. He
told his mother about it.

"Harry Allgire? Isn t he the fellow that s going
with that De Wees girl?"

" Going with her? Why, it s the worst case you
ever saw. She walks down to meet him coming home
to dinner, and walks back with him after. We meet
them every place, Alice and I."

" Oh, well, I wouldn t pay any attention to it, if
I was you," said Mrs. Prouty. " Alice is a nice
enough girl, but "

" Why, that s just it. Of course she s nice, and I
like her immensely, but as far as going with her
is concerned, why, I never thought of such a thing.
And I don t suppose she has, either."

" No, I reckon not," said Mrs. Prouty, but she
did not seem to be so positive about it as her son.
" Her mother was saying I don t know as I ought
to tell you."


" Oh, go on, tell me. What did she say? "

" Well, come to think, I don t know as I can tell
just in so many words; but the amount of it was that
she thought Alice thought a good deal of you." She
eyed him sharply to see how he took it. He looked
very grave. Then she added: " She said Alice said
there was something to what you had to say. I think
myself she thinks you re just about right."

Bob was troubled in his mind. He hadn t sup
posed that Alice would attach any more importance
to their friendship than he had. It was a funny thing
if a fellow couldn t be civil to a girl without her
going and falling in love with him. It just spoiled
everything. He was in no position to pay serious
attentions to any woman. He was not employed, and
Lord knew when he would be. It was no easy thing
to get a place as good as the one that he had given
up because he would not submit to be talked to
as Maxwell had talked to him. Even so, the salary
was none too much for one, let alone two, he didn t
care how his father figured.

Anyhow, he meant to look around a little before
settling on a final choice. On the train coming
West with him there was a girl. She was with
her father, so he had not But he had caught
her looking at him once. Now, a girl like that, for

Alice was nice, no doubt about that. He would


like to take her and show her around New York.
She would appreciate it all, because she had such
sensible ideas. He d like to take her to the Metro
politan Opera House. It was something pathetic to
think that a girl with her taste in music, and her
understanding of it, had never even heard " Faust."
It would be a pleasure to watch her pleasure. And
he would be proud to be seen with her, for, though
she wasn t exactly a beauty, she looked about as
well as any girl he was acquainted with. She was
distinguished in a way, and her face was so express
ive. She was stylish, too, and what she wore was
in good taste. A man might do worse than marry
her. In fact, the fellow that got her would be dis
tinctly lucky; but it was out of the question for Bob
to think of that, because he didn t love her.

He thought a great deal of her, it was true. She
was such good company. She didn t make him tired,
as other girls did. But if she was going to fall in
love with him, why he wished he hadn t said he
would be over that evening. But he had said so,
and she would be disappointed if he didn t call.

" Ah, Bob, going courting? " gayly inquired his
father as his son came out on the veranda after sup
per. " I see you re all togged out."

" No, indeed," replied Mr. Robert Prouty gravely,
determined to put an end to such nonsense. " No,
just making a call."


"Well, give her my love/ returned his father
with ready wit. " And say ! Tell La Fetra I can
beat him a game of cribbage if he ll come over."
Mr. Prouty turned to confront his wife s disapprov
ing visage. "Why, what s wrong now?" he asked
guiltily as soon as Bob was out of earshot.

"Henry Prouty! For a man of your age, I do
think you have as little judgment as anybody I ever
saw tow-row-rowing at the boy that way, so all the
neighbors can hear you!"

"Well, what of it?"

" Good land! Can t you see? "

" Why, do you think " Mr. Prouty finished his
question by inclining his head toward the La Fetra

" Think? I don t think anything about it."


Bob and Alice were talking, with the gate between
them, when Mr. and Mrs. La Fetra returned from
spending the evening at the Proutys .

" Well, sir, I beat that dad of yours four straight
games out of five. He can t play cribbage a little
bit," was Mr. La Fetra s loud boast, synchronous
with his wife s reproof of Alice for standing out in
the night air with nothing around her.

Bob and Alice both essayed at once to unlatch the


gate. Her fingers brushed the back of his hand, and
lingered the fraction of a second longer than in-
stantaneity. The nerves there, commonly so dull,
leaped into alert consciousness. Fire and frost
thrilled his back, a sensation strange but delightful.

It puzzled him, for nothing could be surer than
that he was not in love with Alice La Fetra. He
knew what love was, both by reading and by ob
servation. He had once roomed with a fellow named
Kirke, who " had it bad " for the fifth time, and who
was destined to have it three times more before he

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryEugene WoodFolks back home → online text (page 12 of 17)